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The Rapidly Growing Role of AI in Retail

Posted by Jaci Bateson on Feb 26, 2019

Have you ever thought about how the camera on your phone automatically adjusts its settings to perfectly capture images in nearly any type of lighting? That’s artificial intelligence (AI) hard at work, right in the comfort of your pocket, and it’s getting better and better with each system update. The point is that AI is not as alien as most of us think. We may not notice it, but it’s already a big part of our daily lives – from our smartphones to the supply chain. AI in retail began showing up everywhere at NRF's Big Show in 2017, due to its capacity to rapidly transform various aspects of the retail industry. And today, these transformations have manifested in a number of significant ways.

At the same retail show held in January 2019, Pensa Systems unveiled drones that could help retailers monitor shelf inventory. In the same vein, Giant Food Stores also announced that Badger Technologies’ “Marty” robot would be implemented in 500 of their stores. Both robots are aimed at helping retailers not just monitor inventory, but also use data to analyze retail trends and predict numbers for the future – ultimately enabling retailers to provide customers with a more personalized retail experience.

Meanwhile, Uniqlo, along with other retailers, have already been delving into data from Google Cloud to construct similar predictive forecasting models powered by AI. Through AI that’s empowered by machine learning (ML), retailers can improve at predicting which products they should carry in the future. In terms of customer service, inventory management, and predictive analytics, AI has the world of retail covered. In fact, PC Magazine reports that research has shown that the world spent approximately $2 billion in AI development in 2018, and is slated to spend $7.3 billion by 2022. However, while these positive developments are undeniably great for the world’s supply chain, there is a flip side to the equation.

AI in Retail

One of the most glaring concerns when it comes to AI in retail is the issue of employment. There’s very little doubt that automation through AI has the potential to decrease traditional retail jobs. But at the same time, it also increases the need for software experts in retail companies. In Maryville University’s industry outlook for graduate software developers they predict that by 2024 there will be 1.1 million computer-related job openings. This coincides with the industry expert opinion that for the majority of workers to survive the AI revolution, both governments and businesses need to focus on building the AI-related skills of their current workforce. Instead of a threat to employment, AI can benefit the workforce in nearly all aspects of retail, provided the workforce is skilled enough to understand and work alongside it.

Considering the current AI-related developments in retail, there are plenty of jobs reserved for such skilled workers. Marketing automation expert Daniel Faggella expounds on how physical brick-and-mortar retailers will be using the coming years to employ AI in the same way as their digital counterparts. This will leave a lot of room for retail employees to grow alongside software and hardware developments. The major innovations will include monitoring customer behaviors through user accounts, anticipating customer needs, out-of-store recommendations and advertising, and an increase in demand for delivery. In all of these aspects, employees who’ve already worked in retail are in the perfect position to help physical stores use AI to streamline their processes.

Make no mistake about it – AI in retail is set to transform customer service, take advantage of big data in marketing, and ultimately streamline the supply chain. 

Our guest writer Jaci Bateson believes that every endeavor begins with knowledge. Since she started writing about modern technology, and how it is changing the world, she has seen a huge shift towards a global workforce that is run by computers. Her research and articles examine this shift, and explore the effects it will have on commercial industries.


Topics: Business of Retail

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